EMMITSBURG, MD-- The families of the nation's fallen responders received hugs, pats on the back and comforting words from President George W. Bush on Sunday during the 26th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.
"The bonds of firefighters are unique," Bush told several thousand people who turned out to remember the sacrifices of 91 firefighters.
The only interruption for applause came after Bush said: "I want to tell you today that the Hometown Heroes Act will be fully implemented. This program will be administrated the way it was intended to be administrated. That's the least we can do as we honor the families of those who have died in the line of service."
The Department of Justice which oversees the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program has been at odds whether firefighters who die of heart attacks while on duty qualify for funds.
Days ago, after years of emotional testimony from survivors and debate, the interpretation was cleared up. The families of firefighters who suffer heart attacks are eligible for benefits.
Bush praised the responders for their dedication to risk their lives.
"You know, it takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter. It begins with a different sense of direction. When an area becomes too dangerous for everybody else, you take it over. When others are looking for the exits, our firefighters are looking for the way in.
"When the frightened occupants of a burning building are rushing down the stairwell, our firefighters are going the opposite direction, up the stairs, and toward the flames."
The president specifically mentioned a few of the 2006 fallen heroes, including Amy L. Schnearle-Pennywitt, of the Ann Arbor, Mich. Fire Department. She died of injuries sustained along an icy highway in January.
Bush said he agreed with the summation that responders are the "backbone of our society."
"To the colleagues of those who have fallen: Your fellow firefighters knew the risks when they took the oath of service. Take pride in the example they have set. Honor their memory by carrying on the fine work that they were so proud to do by your side."
He reminded the survivors that they will never be alone -- their fire service families will see to that.
"No words will ease the ache in your hearts," Bush said, adding that he hoped his words or hugs would offer comfort even if just for a little while.
And, that's just what it did for the family of George Jackson, who died in 2006, more than 15 years after he was hurt in a fire in Camden, N.J.
Priscilla Jackson said it was nice that Bush spoke with every family.
"He said while he could not really understand our grief, he was sorry. He said it was sad for us to be on our situation," she said.
Jackson's four children called their moment with the president special, one they will never forget. "This whole weekend has been wonderful," said Ellen Peterson.
Camden Capt. Jesse Flax accompanied the family. "This is a privilege. He (Jackson) and my father were best friends. They were firefighters together, but they also did everything together. This is my second family here."
Flax also said he and other Camden firefighters have and will continue to comfort Jackson's family.
It was Kathy Brimer's fourth annual memorial service. She and her husband, Karl, have been coming back every year since their son was honored.
Matt Brimer, 18, was killed in a crash while responding to call with Weaver Volunteer Fire Department in Alabama.
"Everyone helped us. Now, we want to do what we can. It's always touching??"
The backdrop -- a huge American flag held by ropes from a tower from Vigilant Hose Company and Quint from Walkersville Volunteer Fire Company -- fell victim to the strong breeze. It was lowered during the ceremony as concerns grew.
Thousands sat or stood in the unusually hot weather as each survivor's family or fellow firefighters were greeted by Bush. Many took him up on his offer to have a picture or two.